For Immediate Release, September 10, 2010
Contact: Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 274-1110
Pacific Walrus Faces Dire Future: Federal Report Predicts Extinction Risk Due to Global Warming
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— A new federal report today finds there’s a 40-percent chance that the Pacific walrus, a species imperiled by loss of sea ice due to global warming, will be on a pathway to extinction by the end of the century. Scientists with the Center for Biological Diversity say even that estimate is far too optimistic because the U.S. Geological Survey relied on modeling that underestimates the effects of climate change.
“Today’s report, although based on optimistic and ultimately unrealistic assumptions about sea-ice loss, reaffirms what is all too obvious: Unless we dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions, the walrus is on a trajectory toward extinction,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Center’s Alaska director. “The walrus clearly meets the criteria for protection under the Endangered Species Act.”
The USGS used climate models that underestimate emissions, warming and rates of Arctic sea-ice loss. The report also dismissed as negligible the impacts from reduced food supply for the walrus. Sea-ice loss in the Bering Sea is already leading to declines in the walrus’s bottom-dwelling prey; ocean acidification is making Arctic waters increasingly corrosive and potentially lethal to the clams and mussels it eats. Still, the USGS determined that these threats have negligible influences on the walrus’s future. The study would have found a significantly worse outlook for walruses if it had used more realistic assessments of these threats.
While global warming and ocean acidification are the greatest threats to the Pacific walrus, the species is also threatened by the Interior Department’s plans to allow offshore oil drilling in its Chukchi Sea habitat.
“The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s strongest law for wildlife protection and, properly applied, can help the walrus survive the stress of a melting Arctic,” said Noblin. “But unless we take immediate action to reduce greenhouse pollution, the grim reaper of global warming will ultimately claim the Pacific walrus as a victim.”
In February 2008 the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal scientific petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, another Interior Department agency, requesting protection of the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act. Under a lawsuit settlement, the Fish and Wildlife Service must make a decision as to whether the species should be protected by Jan. 31, 2011.